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July 24, 2015

Rhode Island jury awards damages to lead poisoned woman

Finds landlord negligent for living conditions in which she was poisoned as a child

A Providence, R.I., jury has found a former landlord negligent for the conditions in which he kept a Pawtucket, R.I., home that caused a former tenant to be poisoned by lead-based paint. The jury awarded Traecina Claiborne, 19, $120,000 in compensatory damages as well as thousands in punitive damages and affirmed that she was exposed to “dangerous, hazardous and illegal levels of lead-based paint, plaster, and materials inside the dwelling and generally within and about the [defendant’s] dwelling.” With interest, the final judgment totals more than $350,000.00, exceeding the policy limits available.

Traecina lived at 71 Magill Street in Pawtucket between March and July 1998 with her parents. In 1998, when she was just two-years-old, she was diagnosed with lead poisoning, but landlord Duncan Duff, a Florida resident, did nothing to help improve the conditions and remove lead paint from the home.

The jury was shown test results that proved Traecina’s blood lead levels were elevated, ranging from 19 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) to a peak of 51 μg/dL in 1998. According to the Centers for Disease Control at the time, a blood lead level of 10 μg/dL or more was the level of concern. While this poisoning occurred more than 17 years ago, the effect on Traecina’s daily life is still evident today and will unfortunately continue for the rest of her life. She now suffers from brain injuries and IQ loss.

“I commend my mother for doing everything in her power to try to protect me growing up. I know it was heart-breaking for her that she couldn’t protect me from our home and the lead in it,” said Traecina. “The jury’s verdict is a relief for not only me and my family, but hopefully it can also help prevent children like me from being lead poisoned.”

According to the CDC, lead paint is the primary cause of lead exposure for children who live in older homes. Despite lead paint being outlawed for residential purposes by the Federal Government more than 35 years ago, it is still present in more than 24 million homes built prior to 1978, and continues to threaten the health of families and children.

“Lead poisoning can be extremely detrimental to developing children well into their adulthood, just as we’ve seen with Traecina. She and her family have been through nothing but a roller coaster since her lead poisoning diagnosis at the young age of two,” said Motley Rice attorney for Traecina, Vin Greene. “This verdict is a welcome way off that roller coaster and will allow her and her family to continue to recover and will send a message to landlords about the serious dangers of lead paint.”

Motley Rice attorneys Vincent (Vin) L. Greene IV, Robert (Bob) J. McConnell, Jonathan Orent and Ashley J. Hornstein represented Traecina. The case is Traecina Claiborne et al. v. Duncan Duff  C.A. No. PC-2010-6330 in the State of Rhode Island Providence Superior Court.